Updated: Aug 16, 2019
It would be nice to think that stress is just in our heads, something that we just need to deal with on a daily basis and get over it. I mean, we all have busy lives don’t we?
Yes, we do but increasingly, scientific studies are showing us that the effects of stress have wider implications for our health than just being a mental challenge that society thinks we need to just get on with. The reality is, stress is making us ill and with our fast-paced lives here to stay, what are the implications for our physical health from stress and is there a way to manage it better to keep us from getting sick?
Stress is not just in your head, there is a physiological response. We know this. Just a thought can dictate our stomachs turning over with excitement or dread. In stressful situations, this means our ‘fight or flight’ is being triggered all the time, raiding first our adrenalin reserves and then once those are depleted, our other hormones; acid production is increased; good bacteria is over-run and our digestive systems slow down… quite simply digestive and thyroid systems that are working over-time to attempt to replenish our reserves, are fighting a losing battle.
· Thyroid – if either from a nutritional, or constant fight against stress, the thyroid suffers, then so does the production of your hormones. What does this mean? Well at a minimum you don’t have the right components for your system to run itself properly and everything gets backed up and depleted including:
o Loss in energy and a struggle to burn fat and weight gain
o Hormonal cycles are disrupted – particularly in women
o Libidos fall
o Seratonin production falls affecting your moods leading to you feeling low
o Sleep is affected as imbalances of cortisol (too much) and melatonin (too little) prevent us from getting the sleep – and the time to recharge, that we need.
· Stress and gas – stress and anxiety can cause constriction in the gut leading to nitric oxide secretions that trigger gas and bloating. This is why you can never get rid of that tummy, or that your digestion doesn’t feel right, or your gut is over-active.
· Digestive system – digestion slows down (quite literally) meaning that your food is either un-metabolised and nutrition is wasted, or going toxic in the gut as the detox process the digestive system is central to isn’t working. What’s the result? Consipation, or the other way, gas, bloating and pain or heartburn from excess acid production and oesophageal spasms.
60-80% of your body’s immunity is in your gut making it the largest immune organ in your body because it’s where your good bacteria lurk. Stress responses can wipe-out good bacteria, weakening your immune system and increasing inflammation throughout the body – including pain.
It is now known that effectively our gut is our ‘second brain’ and part of our enteric nervous system linking to a superhighway of nerves between our head brain and our gut. This means that it’s not only our heads that define our moods but also vice-versa but that definitely what is going on in our heads, affects our guts and our overall well-being. To what extent, well 95% of serotonin which affects our moods, sleep and appetite is created in the gut and NOT the brain.
So, how can we minimise these impacts on our overall health? Here is a short (and not exhaustive) list of suggestions:
1. Take time out – take breaks at work to give your brain and body some respite and slow down. Breaks are not just good, they are essential and not only help you physically but also clear your mind, helping you be both more productive and healthier.
Plus, giving yourself time to eat (rather than eating on the run), enables your metabolism to work properly. Less stress while eating means, less bloating, proper assimilation of nutrition, better moods and greater balance in your work day.
2. Talk about it – talking therapies (or talking to a friend/family or colleagues) are good because they can help you get things into perspective and find other solutions, lessening the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.
3. Exercise – take a walk at lunchtime, it clears the mind helping your body and digestive system to relax and helps your metabolism work at its optimal speed (less bloating, more good stuff, less stomach acid and tummy pain).
4. Eat fermented foods – fermented foods are bursting with good bacteria all ready to take on the stress gremlin playing havoc inside you. Try sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi…although I wouldn’t recommend those little bottles of stuff, studies have shown them not to be that effective…Remember good bacteria helps you have more energy, better moods, fewer digestive upsets and better processing which means…reduced weight gain.
5. Slow down and breathe – not only does it give your mind respite (and an opportunity to lessen stress), it helps your body be more relaxed too, reducing the production of stress hormones and that overall horrible feeling of stress, tension, brain fog and a stomach that feels like concrete…
6. Take time out to sleep - if you're working hard and you have demands at home too, sleep is one of your most powerful aides... make sure you get it.
Alison Prangnell is a Coach, specialising in stress. Find out more at www.anderidacoaching.co.uk